Today I was walking through the mall with my daughter and went by the coin operated rides. These are the sort everyone must be familiar with - a cartoonified vehicle made of some kind of plastic derivative, painted bright colours and about 1 meter tall. As usual they feature missing bits, chipped paint and worn down parts. These particular ones are an ice cream truck, a helicopter and a jeep and of course they will rumble, shake and twitch about for the low, low cost of 1 dollar. I find the social obligation surrounding these rides very strange indeed.
My daughter loves to play on the ice cream truck ride though I never put any money in it. Very often there are several parent/child groups on the rides at one time and inevitably the other parents are feeding the machines money. They often give me very strange looks when their child hops onto the ice cream truck and my daughter gets a free ride when they know that I have not been feeding the machine myself.
I could try to play the 'I'm poor' card to justify this behaviour, though truly that isn't reasonable nor the actual reason behind my decision. I wouldn't want to put money in those machines regardless of how much money I had on hand - I feel like there are better places to spend that money. Many people seem to feel that if you are going to let your children hop on these machines then you have an obligation to pour cash into them for awhile and I really don't buy into that. When I visit the mall these machines are there, taunting my poor, restraint-challenged daughter. She is going to run onto them regardless of what I want, and though I could drag her off them kicking and screaming to avoid the 'obligation' to pay the price I choose to let her sit on the ice cream truck as long as she wants to. The makers of these devices know these tendencies and social dynamics well and use them to milk money out of hapless passerby.
There is a part of me that wants to yell at everyone and tell them that they should not accept the obligation to pay. It has a lot in common with the massive quantity of junk sold surrounding Easter, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, etc. in that people are under the impression that they just have to throw their cash at these manufacturers and have no choice in the matter without being cast out. Of course if I succeeded in convincing them all that paying should be optional these devices would vanish from the mall and my daughter would have one less thing to play with.
Surely I cannot affect this part of the world - manufacturers will continue to make junk and try to convince the populace that they have a moral obligation to buy that junk. No matter that I do not buy masses of useless items on marked holidays and then throw them out the next day and no matter that I do not feed the rides; they will continue on because other people do and I can reap the rewards of free ice cream trucks and silly decorations in the mall on regular holidays. Am I a freeloader, or am I warrior fighting the good fight against corporate greed? Perhaps a bit of both.